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Documents offer insiders' views of last summer's unannounced helicopter drills

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Documents obtained and published by Public Record Media offer a behind-the-scenes look at the unannounced helicopter drills that spooked Twin Cities residents last summer.

Public Record Media, a Minnesota nonprofit formed in 2013, posted a story and documents on its website Monday comprised mainly of correspondence between the St. Paul Police Department and the organizers of the training.

It's actually the second batch of documents published by the nonprofit; in April, it posted documents from the Minneapolis Police Department.

(Note: Make sure to click both links to get the full picture, and see the documents for yourself.)

So what do these documents show?

When the training began on Aug. 18, a Monday night, it came with little to no warning for the public. But that's the way the military wanted it.

Black military helicopters began buzzing around the Minneapolis and St. Paul skies after the sun went down, flying low enough to appear very close to tall buildings, and residents quickly became concerned.

The Department of Defense and Navy sent official letters of request to local officials in January 2014, asking for approval to conduct the training.

The purpose of the exercises was "realistic military training," Public Record Media says, citing a DOD document. It means using real-world urban locations for training, because they're "the most complex and difficult to emulate on federal property." (Basically, they can't build a giant fake city to practice, so they use real ones.)

The 2014 exercises were similar to ones run in the Twin Cities two years prior.

Communications with the Minneapolis Police Department show the federal agencies wanted to keep things quiet, Public Record Media says, with a city police chief writing it's "a highly respected and security sensitive effort. The training was conducted in 2012 in Minneapolis with little or no fanfare – that is the way they want it.”

As for the response, once people started expressing their displeasure the night the training started?

The published documents include an email with a couple versions of a press release, written by an unidentified person named Suzanne and sent to city entities just after midnight Tuesday, that offers an apology to those inconvenienced.

A response from someone named Allen said they were "great," adding, "Get them through the first night and should be more understanding the rest of the week."

The training lasted through Thursday, Aug. 21.

St. Paul police issued a statement that Tuesday saying in part, "security concerns" mean exact times and locations for training can't be released in advance.

St. Paul City Councilman Dave Thune sent an email the day after the training started, calling it a "bonehead blunder from the start" and describing the military leadership as "inept."

A DOD official later remarked the agency's relationship with St. Paul was on "a cliff," and said the local leaders' responses "must be controlled," Public Record Media writes.

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